Jake Thompsett climbing 'Giants Cave Buttress' at Avon Gorge

Avon Gorge VS Challenge

Climb all 5 x VS 4C** routes in the Gorge! (In a day)

Inspired and encouraged by local Bristol climbing hero and all round nice guy Dave Talbot, I’m always a sucker for a challenge. The 5 routes in question span across the 5 main sections of cliffs in the gorge and present a superb introduction to the delights of Bristol climbing. From left to right:

Unknown Wall
Gronk
Clarion
Piton Route
Giants Cave Buttress

It was a beautiful 10/10 day and Jake & I decided to head for an afternoon climb and tick off a few VS’s…unknown to him I had a bigger plan…but I didn’t tell him.

15:30 – Start the watch (with out telling Jake!). The first route is ‘Unknown Wall’. A fantastic climb (once we eventually found the bottom of it!) that provides a couple of really great 4C pitches up a funky wall and a cheeky traverse. Now the best bit (arguably) of this route – in fact of the whole day – is that you top out onto the downs and the ice cream van!! We came well prepared (thanks to Daves blog) & devoured some (insert Bristolian accent here) 99ers’ – with flake and sauce (of course) before blasting it down through the trees back to the bottom.

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Classic Avon Gorge climbing under blue skies!

Slightly unconventionally and against our favour time wise we opted to climb Clarion next (as neither of us had done it before). A more slabby climb with lots of gear quickly got dispatched, and another high 5 ensued. Foolishly we had forgotten to take heed to Daves advice of bringing skate boards and a bouncy castle for a ‘quicker descent’, so we abseiled back down. How boring.

Onwards we trundled, down to the far end and climbed the brilliant Giants Cave Buttress on the amphitheatre walls next to the iconic suspension bridge. What a wicked place to climb! Wonderful bouncy climbing and a delightful move around the arete provides entertainment and surprise of the onlookers standing on the viewing platform. We even got heckled…(insert Bristolian accent)…“ear Pete look at those guys, they’re f**king mental!” Cheers en’

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Jake leading pitch 1 of Giants Cave Buttress

Another cool top out, a quick chat to some more local chavs (“aah sick bruv, you is crazy blood!”) and the beginnings of a lovely sunset provided an opportunity for a few selfies by the bridge. (Why wouldn’t you). This seems like a good time to mention that it was soooo hot and sunny we were climbing topless since the start*

* Disclaimer: We take no responsibility for all the car crashes along the Portway that day as people oggeled at our naked muscular bods.

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Selfie at the top of route 3 of 5!

It was all going to well and then I told Jake to hurry up. Why? He asked so innocently. BECUASE WERE GOING TO DO THE VS CHALLENGE!! And if by magic his Jakes eye lit up! A quick glance at the watch, a squint at the sun and we were off…did we have enough time to do 2 more big multi-pitch routes? Suddenly it had cranked up a gear!

Heading back on ourselves along the Portway we made our way to the bottom of climb number 4 – Piton Route. Or as I am going to call it…Polished Route. A classic VS route with lots of character, it winds through improbable ground on an impressive face…so good it features in Classic Rock. New skills were required and a climbing ability to lead VS 4C with just your arms whilst your feet slip and slide all over the place. Welcome to Avon Gorge.

At the top of Piton Route Dave called to see how we were getting on…about 4 hours in or so and one route left. I told him off for wasting precious seconds of our time but he seemed impressed and gave us the encouraging boost to push on to Gronk.

Now, you can do the math…start at 15:30…4 hours or so in, thats around 19:45ish and yes the sun had set. I mumbled something about probably not having enough time, Jake agreed…so we tied in and began climbing Gronk! And so with last light we set of the longest and slowest of the 5 routes. A fine fine route with some lovely delicate traversing (my favourite). Jake led a long pitch linking 1 and 2 together for speed. I zipped up and climbed through, up a little and traversed down and right into the corner. It was most definitely DARK now, around 20:30 and the street lights were on down below us. Foolishly and rather embarrassingly I suggested abseiling off…what a tit, clearly not an option. Jake took the gear and led a wonderfully bold rising left traverse in near pitch black to the top.

It is like reaching a summit and having doubts until the last minute – but we had completed the whole challenge! A good old man hug, slap on the back, well done old boy and we felt very happy with ourselves. We had done it!! Totally exhausted and with sore feet we had topped out in a total of 5 hours and 20 minutes, and other than Gronk we had done each pitch as the guide book suggests, all 13 of them!!

2 pints later we were all over the place. Quality tip top day out.

Top tips – Take money for ice cream(s) (Gronk is also not far away from the ice cream van!). Drink and eat as you go along. Wear suncream. Admire the view – its a super cool place to climb. Always climb responsibly.

Disclaimer(s) – Rock climbing can be hazardous. Always carry a head torch if starting a climb after dark. Speed climbing is dangerous. Always drive responsibly along the Portway. Tell your mother what your doing.